The law and order situation in and around the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar is worsening by the day and could pose a threat to Bangladesh society overall, security experts have warned.
Although the Bangladesh Army was tasked by the government to manage the 12 Rohingya camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf and handle relief distribution, drug smuggling and violent crime are still on the rise.
As of October 29, a total of seven dead bodies had been found near Rohingya camps in the region while local law enforcement agencies have documented around 30 criminal activities there in the last 30 days.
At least 20 Rohingya people have been arrested so far in connection with criminal activities such as murder, vandalism, yaba smuggling, engaging in violence and attacking the police, sources from different law enforcement agencies said.
The illegal narcotics trade also seems to be booming in the region. Law enforcers, in different drives, have seized yaba tablets worth around Tk13 crore in the two upazilas, and have arrested several Rohingya for suspected involvement with smuggling.
In an interview with the Dhaka Tribune in September, security specialist and former election commissioner Brigadier General (Retd) M Sakhawat Hossain forewarned that Bangladesh will be at risk of suffering social instability because of the Rohingya influx itself, rather than facing direct security threats from the refugees.
“As the displaced Rohingya continue to enter Bangladesh in droves, the smugglers can take advantage of the situation to smuggle drugs into the country,” he said.
He added that the Rohingya people - who were farmers, hawkers, fishermen and other low-income professionals - are now jobless after entering Bangladesh.
Sakhawat had made a grim prediction that when the relief dries up, the refugees could become involved in human trafficking, arms smuggling, drug smuggling, prostitution and other criminal activities to sustain themselves.
“If it happens, it could negatively impact social security in the region,” he warned.
This prediction is gradually becoming a reality in the two upazilas of Cox’s Bazar.
In a recent incident at Balukhali Camp, a gang of Rohingya men attacked and beat up a group of five local labourers at midnight on Friday, accusing them of robbery. The culprits also used the local mosque’s loudspeaker to spread misinformation to a nearby refugee camp.
“Law enforcers detained two Rohingya men with two guns and six bullets in connection with the incident, and five others were sent to hospitals,” said Abul Khayer, Officer-in-Charge of Ukhiya police station.
On the same day, another Rohingya youth named Rafiq Uddin was arrested from the Kutupalong Rohingya camp on charge of criminal activities, police said.
Within a few hours, another Rohingya youth named Ziabul hacked a local youth named Abdul Jabbar to death at Ramu upazila of Cox’s Bazar over an alleged extra-marital affair, police sources said.
Although the Cox’s Bazar district Superintendent of Police, Dr AKM Iqbal Hossain, termed described the spike in criminal activities as “isolated incidents”, a local authority leader claimed the unrest was being orchestrated.
“A certain group of people, currently living in the refugee camps, are trying to damage Bangladesh’s reputation. They are using the Rohingya youth for creating anarchy at Rohingya camps,” said Palangkhali Union Paishad Chairman Gafor Uddin Chowdhury.
The UP chairman suggested that any unknown person or NGO visiting the camps be put under strict surveillance.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune from inside one of the refugee camps, several Rohingya leaders pointed the finger at members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and Rohingya Solidarity Organisation.
A local public representative of Ukhiya upazila, on condition of anonymity said: “Most of the Rohingya are now in Bangladesh. So, where are the members of ARSA who carried out coordinated attacks on Myanmar army outposts? It is very possible that ARSA members are hiding in Rohingya camps, disguised as civilians,” he claimed.
The local residents of Ukhiya and Teknaf, who have witnessed the Rohingya crisis unfold since August 25, said a majority of the displaced Rohingya who entered the country before October were women, children and the elderly.
At that time, the number of Rohingya youths at the camps was comparatively low. However, middle-aged and young Rohingya men started entering the country since late September, said locals.
Several members of the intelligence agencies deployed at these camps said criminal activities in the region have gone up since the arrival of young Rohingya men.
However, Rohingya people staying in those camps have denied the allegations of involvement in criminal activities.
Some refugees claimed that after the military crackdown began in Rakhine state, the women, children and elderly were among the first to flee Myanmar, while most of the young male Rohingya hid in jungles and hills.
“October is the harvesting season in our country. We were waiting to harvest our crops so many of us could not flee immediately,” said Yasir Arafat, a 21-year-old resident of Maungdaw who arrived in Balukhali Rohingya camp recently.
Another refugee named Mohammad Ihsak, who is from Buthidaung Township area, claimed that most of the men stayed in their neighbourhood to guard shops, residences and other properties that were not burned to the ground during the army crackdown.
“However, the Moghs and the army patrolled our neighbourhood on a regular basis. So, eventually we left our property and wealth behind and fled to Bangladesh empty handed,” Ihsak said.
The Dhaka Tribune has found a correlation between the mass exodus of young Rohingya men and the increasing crime rates in the region, after analysing crime statistics for the past 30 days.
During the month of October, Teknaf and Ukhiya police found three dead bodies of Rohingya near campgrounds.
A Hindu Rohingya was allegedly picked up and killed by another group of Rohingya in late September. The police are still investigating the murder.
In the same month, a Rohingya couple attacked and severely injured a police official after he prevented them from setting up a shop illegally in Ukhiya.
There are also reports that the Rohingya have attacked a relief volunteer in Ukhiya.
The Dhaka Tribune spoke with several senior law enforcement officials and eminent local people about the matter.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB 7) Cox’s Bazar Company Commander, Major Md Ruhul Amin, said: “On Saturday, we nabbed two Rohingya men– Nurul Boshor and Md Elias - and found firearms in their possession. We conducted more drives based on information gleaned from the suspects (and) should soon get more information regarding the people who are behind the unrest.”
Meanwhile, Rohingya Repatriation Committee’s Advisor, Adil Chowdhury, said: “The Rohingya people must kept in a particular area. It would be dangerous if they are allowed to go everywhere. Sending these people back to their country is the only solution to the crisis.”
Police Headquarters’ Assistant Inspector General (Media and Planning) Sahely Ferdous said Bangladesh supports the Rohingya on humanitarian grounds.
“The police have been instructed to deal with the sheltered refugees keeping human psychology into consideration,” the AIG said. “At the same time, we were instructed to remain vigilant against any attempts to create untoward incidents of any kind.”
An unprecedented influx of displaced Rohingya began entering Bangladesh on August 25, following a Myanmar military crackdown in response to insurgent attacks against security outposts in the state of Rakhine.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 605,000 Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh in the aftermath of the recent unrest.